Classics in the History of Psychology

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Christopher D. Green
York University, Toronto, Ontario

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Classics Editor's note: The original page numbers of the Judd translation are given in square brackets. The page numbers given in round brackets are Wundt's own references to earlier parts of the translation.

Outlines of Psychology

Wilhelm Max Wundt (1897)

Translated by Charles Hubbard Judd (1897)



1. The fact that the psychical development of man is regularly slower than that of most animals is to be seen in the much more gradual maturing of his sense-functions. The child, to be sure, reacts immediately after birth to all kinds of sense-stimuli, most clearly to impressions of touch and taste, with the least certainty to those of sound. Still, it is impossible to doubt that the special forms of the reaction-movements in all these cases are due to inherited reflexes. This is especially true for the child's crying when afected by cold and tactual impressions, and for the mimetic reflexes when he tastes sweet, sour, or bitter substances. It is probable that all these impressions are accompanied by obscure sensations and feelings, yet the character of the movements can not be explained from the feelings whose symptoms they may be considered to be, but must be referred to connate central reflex tracts.

Probably nothing is clear in consciousness until the end of the [p. 284] first month, and even then, as the rapid change of moods shows, sensations and feelings must be relatively very changeable. It is at about this time that we begin to observe symptoms of pleasurable and unpleasurable feelings in the child's laughter and in lively rhythmical movements of his arms and legs after certain impressions. Even the reflexes are not completely developed at first -- a fact which we can easily understand when we learn from anatomy that many of the connecting fibres between the cerebral centres do not develop until after birth. Thus the associative reflex-movements of the two eyes are wanting. From the first each of the eyes by itself generally turns towards a light, but the movements of the two eyes are entirely irregular, and it is only in the course of the first three months that the normal coordination of the movements of the two eyes with a common fixation-point, begins to appear. Even then the developing regularity is not to be regarded as a result of complete visual perceptions, but, quite the reverse, as a symptom of the gradual functioning of a reflex-centre, which then renders clear visual perceptions possible.

2. It is, generally speaking, impossible to gain any adequate information about the qualitative relations of psychical elements in the child's consciousness, for the reason that we have no certain objective symptoms. It is probable that the number of different tonal sensations, perhaps also the number of color-sensations, is very limited. The fact that children two years old not infrequently use the wrong names for colors ought not however, to be looked upon as unqualified evidence, that they do not have the sensation in question. It is much more probable that lack of attention and a confusion of the names is the real explanation in such cases.

Towards the end of the first year the differential of feelings and the related development of the various emotions [p. 285] take place, and show themselves strikingly in the characteristic expressive movements that gradually arise. We have unpleasurable feelings and joy, then in order, astonishment, expectation, anger, shame, envy, etc. Even in these cases the dispositions for the combined movements which express the single emotions, depend upon inherited physiological attributes of the nervous system, which generally do not begin to function until after the first few months, in a way analogous to the combined innervation of the ocular muscles. As further evidence of this we have the fact that not infrequently special peculiarities in the expressive movements are inherited by whole families.

3. The physical conditions for the rise of spacial ideas are connate in the form of inherited reflex-connections which make a relatively rapid development of these ideas possible. But for the child the spacial perceptions seem at first to be much more incomplete than they are in the case of many animals. There are manifestations of pain when the skin is stimulated, but no clear symptoms of localization. Distinct grasping movements develop gradually from the aimless movements that are observed even in the first days, but they do not, as a rule, become certain and consciously purposive until aided by visual perceptions, after the twelfth week. The turning of the eye toward a source of light as generally observed very early, is to be regarded as reflex. The same is true of the gradual coordination of ocular movements. Still it is probable that along with these reflexes there are developed spacial ideas, so that all we can observe is the gradual completion of these ideas from very crude beginnings, for the process is continuous and is always interconnected with its original physiological substratum. Even in the child the sense of sight shows itself to be decidedly more rapid in its development than the sense of touch, for the symptoms [p. 286] of visual localization are certainly observable earlier than those of tactual localization, and the grasping movements, as mentioned above, do not reach their full development until aided by the sense of sight. The field of binocular vision is much later in its development than that of monocular vision. The latter shows itself in the discrimination of directions in space. The beginnings of the development of a field for binocular vision coincide with the first coordination of ocular movements and belong, accordingly, to the second half of the first year. The perception of size, of distance, and of various three-dimensional figures remains for a long time very imperfect. Especially, distant objects are all thought to be near at hand, so that they appear relatively small to the child.

4. Temporal ideas develop along with the spacial ideas. The ability to form regular temporal ideas and the agreeableness of these to the child shows itself in the first months in the movements of his limbs and especially in the tendency to accompany rhythms that are heard, with similar rhythmical movements. Some children can imitate correctly, even before, they can speak, the rhythmical melodies that they hear, in sounds and intonations. Still, the ideas of longer intervals are very imperfect even at the end of the first year and later, so that a child gives very irregular judgements as to the duration of different periods and also as to their sequence.

5. The development of associations and of simple apperceptive combinations goes hand in hand with that of spacial and temporal ideas. Symptoms of sensible recognition (p. 237) are observable from the very first days, in the rapidly aquired ability to find the mother's breast and in the obvious habituation to the objects and persons of the environment. Still, for a long time these associations cover only very short intervals of time, at first only hours, then days. Even in [p. 287] the third and fourth years children either forget entirely or remember only imperfectly persons who bay been absent for a few weeks.

The case with attention is similar. At first it is possible to concentrate it upon a single object only for a very short time, and it is obvious that passive apperception which always follows the predominating stimulus, that is the one whose affective tone is strongest (p. 217), is the only form present. In the first weeks, however, a lasting attention begins to show itself in the way the child fixates and follows objects for a longer time, especially if they are moving; and at the same time we have the first trace of active apperception in the ability to turn voluntarily from one impression to another. From this point on, the ability becomes more and more fully developed; still, the attention, even in later childhood, fatigues more rapidly than in the case of adults, and requires a greater variety of objects or a more frequent pause for rest.

6. The development of self-consciousness keeps pace with that of the associations and apperceptions. In judging of this development we must guard against accepting as signs of self-consciousness any single symptoms, such as the child's discrimination of the parts of his body from objects of his environment, his use of the word "I", or even the recognition of his own image in the mirror. The adult savage who has never seen his own reflected image before, takes it for some other person. The use of the personal pronoun is due to the child's imitation of the examples of those about him. This imitation comes at very different times in the cases of different children, even when their intellectual development in other respects is the same. It is, to be sure, a symptom of the presence of self-consciousness, but the first beginnings of self-consciousness may have preceded this discrimination [p. 288] in speech by a longer or shorter period of time as the case may be. Again, the discrimination of the body from other objects is a symptom of exactly the same kind. The re cognition of the body is a process that regularly precedes that of the recognition of the image in the mirror, but one is as little a criterion of the beginning of self-consciousness as the other. They both presuppose the existence of some degree of self-consciousness beforehand. Just as the developed self-consciousness is based upon a number of different conditions (p. 221), so in the same way the self-consciousness of the child is from the first a product of several components, partly ideational in character, partly affective and volitional. Under the first head we have the discrimination of a constant group of ideas, under the second the development of certain interconnected processes of attention and volitional acts. The constant group of ideas does not necessarily include all parts of the body, as, for example, the legs, which are usually covered, and it may, as is more often the case, include external objects, as, for example, the clothes generally worn. The subjective affective and volitional components, and the relations that exist between these and the ideational components in external volitional acts, are the factors that exercise the decisive influence. Their greater influence is shown especially by the fact that strong feelings, especially those of pain, very often mark in an individual's memory the first moment to which the continuity of his self-consciousness reaches back. But there can be no doubt that a form of self-consciousness, even though less interconnected, exists even before this first clearly remembered moment, which generally comes in the fifth or sixth year. Still, since the objective observation of the child is not supplied at first with any certain criteria, it is impossible to determine the exact moment when self-consciousness begins. Probably the traces of it [p. 289] begin to appear in the first weeks; after this it continually becomes clearer under the constant influence of the conditions mentioned, and increases in temporal extent just as consciousness in general does.

7. The development of will is intimately connected with that of self-consciousness. It may be inferred partly from the development of attention described above, partly from the rise and gradual perfection of external volitional acts, whose influence on self-consciousness has just been mentioned. The immediate relation of attention to will appears in the fact that symptoms of active attention and voluntary action come at exactly the same time. Very many animals execute immediately after birth fairly perfect impulsive movements, that is, simple volitional acts. These are rendered possible by inherited reflex-mechanisms of a complex character. The new-born child, on the contrary, does not show any traces of such impulsive acts. Still, we observe in the first days the earliest beginnings of simple volitional acts of an impulsive character, as a result of the reflexes caused by sensations of hunger and by the sense-perceptions connected with appeasing it. These are to be seen in the evident quest after the sources of nourishment. With the obvious growth of attention come the volitional acts connected with impressions of sight and hearing: the child purposely, no longer merely in a reflex way, follows visual objects, and turns his head towards the noises that he hears. Much later come the movements of the outer muscles of the limbs and trunk. These, especially the muscles of the limbs, show from the first lively movements, generally repeated time and time again. These movements are accompanied by all possible feelings and emotions, and when the latter become differentiated, the movements begin gradually to exhibit certain differences characteristic for the quality of the emotions. The chief [p. 290] difference consists in the fact that rhythmical movement accompany pleasurable emotions, while arrhythmical and, as rule, violent movements result when the emotions are unpleasurable. These expressive movements, which must be looked upon as reflexes attended by feelings, then, as soon as the attention begins to turn upon the surroundings, pass as occasion offers into ordinary voluntary expressive movements. Thus, the child shows through the different accompanying symptoms that he not only feels pain, annoyance, anger, etc., but that the wishes to give expression to these emotions. The first movements, however, in which an antecedent motive is to be recognized beyond a doubt, are the graying movements which begin in the twelfth to the fourteenth week. Especially at first, the foot takes part in these movements as well as the hand. We have here also the first clear symptoms of sense-perception, as well as the first indications of the existence of a simple volitional process made up of motive, decision, and act. Somewhat later intentional imitative movements are to be observed. Simple mimetic imitations, such as puckering the lips and frowning, come first, and then pantomimetic, such as doubling up the fist, beating time, etc. Very gradually, as a rule not until after the beginning of the second half of the first year, complex volitional acts develop from these simple ones. The oscillation of decision, the voluntary suppression of an intended act or one already begun, commence to be clearly observable at this period.

Learning to walk, which usually begins in the last third of the first year, is an important factor in the development of voluntary acts in the proper sense of the term. Its importance is due to the fact that the going to certain particular places furnishes the occasion for the rise of a number of conflicting motives. The learning itself is to be regarded as [p. 291] a process in which the development of the will and the effect of inherited dispositions to certain particular combinations of movements are continually interacting upon each other. The first impulse for the movement comes from volitional motives; the purposive way in which it is carried out, however, is primarily an effect of the central mechanism of coordination, which in turn is rendered continually more and more purposive as a result of the individual's practice directed by his will.

8. The development of the child's ability to speak follows that of his other volitional acts. This, too, depends on the cooperation of inherited modifications in the central organ of the nervous system on one hand, and outside influences on the other. The most important outside influences in this case are those that come from the speech of those about the child. In this respect the development of speech corresponds entirely to that of the other expressive movements, among which it is, from its general psycho-physical character, to be classed. The earliest articulations of the vocal organs appear as reflex phenomena, especially accompanying pleasurable feelings and emotions, as early as the second month. After that they increase in variety and exhibit more and more the tendency to repetition (for example, ba-ba-ba, da-da-da, etc.). These expressive sounds differ from those of many animals only in their greater and continually changing variety. They are produced on all possible occasions and without any intention of communicating anything, so that they are by no means to be classed as elements of speech. Through the influence of those about the child these sounds generally become elements of speech after the beginning of the second year. This result is brought about chiefly by certain imitative movements. It comes, in the form of sound-sensations, from two sides. On the one hand, the child imitates adults, on the other, adults imitate the child. In fact, as a rule, it is the adults who [p. 292] begin the imitating; they repeat the involuntary articulations of the child and attach a particular meaning to them, as, for example, "pa-pa" for father, "ma-ma" for mother, etc. It is not until later, after the child has learned to use these, sounds in a particular sense though intentional immitation, that he repeats other words of the adults' language also, and even then he modifies them to fit the stock of sounds that he is able to articulate.

Gestures are important as means by which adults, more instinctively than voluntarily, help the child to understand the words they use. These are generally indicative gestures towards the objects; less frequently, ordinarily only in the case of words meaning seine activity such as strike, cut, walk, sleep, etc., they take the form of depicting gestures. The child has a natural understanding for these gestures, but not for words. Even the onomatopoetic words of child-speech (such as bow-bow for dog, etc.) never become intelligible to him until the objects have been frequently pointed out. The child is not the creator of these words, but it is rather the adult who seeks instinctively to accommodate himself in this respect also to the stage of the child's consciousness.

All this goes to show that the child's learning to speak is the result of a series of associations and apperceptions in whose formation both the child and those about to take part. Adults voluntarily designate particular ideas with certain words taken from the expressive sounds made by the child, or with onomatopoetic words made arbitrarily after the pattern of the first class. The child apperceives this combination of word and idea after it has been made intelligible to him with gestures, and associates it with his own imitative articulative movements. Following the pattern of these first apperceptions and associations the child their forms others, by imitating of his own accord more and more the words and [p. 293] verbal combinations that he accidentally hears adults using, and by making the appropriate associations with their meanings. The whole process is thus the result of a psychical interaction between the child and those about him. The sounds are at first produced by the child alone, those about him take up these sounds and make use of them for purposes of speech.

9. The final development that comes from all the simpler processes thus far discussed, is that of the complex function of apperception, that is the relating and comparing activities, and the activities of imagination and understanding made up of these (§ 17).

Apperceptive combination in its first form is exclusively the activity of imagination, that is the combination, analysis, and relating of concrete sensible ideas. Thus, individual development corroborates what has been said in general about the genetic relation of these functions (p. 266). On the basis of the continually increasing association of immediate impressions with earlier ideas, there arises in the child, as soon as his active attention is aroused, a tendency to form such combinations voluntarily. The number of memory-elements freely combining with the impression and added to it, furnish us with a measure for the fertility of the individual child's imagination. As soon as this combining activity of imagination has once begun to operate, it shows itself with an impulsive force that the child is unable to resist, for there is not as yet, as ill the case of adults, any activity of the understanding to prescribe definite intellectual ends regulating and inhibiting the free sweep of the ideas of imagination.

This unchecked relating and coupling of ideas in imagination is connected with volitional impulses aiming to find for the ideas some starting-points in immediate sense-perception, however vague these starting-points may be. This is what gives rise to the child's play-impulse. The earliest games of the [p. 294] child are those of pure imagination; while, on the contrary, those of adults (cards, chess, lotto, etc.) are almost as exclusively intellectual games. Only where aesthetical demands exert an influence are the games of adults the productions of the imagination (drama, piano-playing, etc.), but even here they are not wholly untrammeled like those of the child, but are regulated by the understanding. When the play of a child takes its natural course, it shows at different periods of its development all the intermediate stages between the game of pure imagination and that in which imagination and understanding are united. In the first years this play consists in the production of rhythmical movements of the arms and legs, then the movements are carried over to external objects as well, with preference to such objects as give rise to auditory sensations, or such as are of bright colors. In their origin these movements are obviously impulsive acts aroused by certain sensational stimuli and dependent for their purposive coordination on inherited traits of the central nervous organs. The rhythmical order of the movements and of the feelings and sound-impressions produced by them, obviously arouse pleasurable feelings, and this very soon results in the voluntary repetition of the movements. After this, during the first years, play becomes gradually a voluntary imitation of the occupations and scenes that the child sees about him. The range of imitation then widens and is no longer limited to what is seen, but includes a free reproduction of what is heard in narratives. At the same time the interconnection between ideas and acts begins to follow a more fixed plan. This is the regulative influence of the activity of understanding, which shows itself in the games of later childhood in perscribed rules. This development is often accelerated through the influence of those about the child and through artificial forms of play generally invented by adults and not always suited to the child's imagination; [p. 295] still, the development is to be recognized as natural and necessarily conditioned by the reciprocal interconnection of associative and apperceptive processes, since it agrees with the general development of the intellectual functions. The way in which the processes of imagination are gradually curtailed and the functions of understanding more and more employed, renders it probable that the curtailing is due not so much to a quantitative decrease of imagination as to an obstruction of its action through abstract thinking. When this has once set in, because of the predominating exercise of abstract thinking, the activity of imagination may itself through lack of use be interfered with. This view seems to be supported by the fact that savages usually have all through their lives an imaginative play-impulse related to that of the child.

10. From imaginative forms of thought as a starting point the functions of understanding develop very gradually in the way already described (p. 264). Aggregate ideas that are presented in sense-perception or formed by the combination, activity of imagination are divided into their conceptual components, into objects and their attributes, into objects and their activities, or into the relations of different objects to one another. The decisive symptom for the rise of the functions of understanding is therefore the formation of concepts. On the other hand, actions that can be explained from the point of view of the observer by logical reflection, are by no means proofs of the existence of such reflection on the part of the actor, for they are very often obviously derived from associations, just as in the case of animals. In the same way there may be the first beginnings of speech without abstract thinking in any proper sense, since words refer originally only to concrete sensible impressions. Still, the more perfect use of language is not possible until ideas are conceptually analyzed, related, and transferred, even [p. 296] though the processes are in each case entirely concrete and sensible. The development of the functions of understanding and that of speech accordingly go hand in hand, and the latter is an indispensable aid in retaining concepts and fixing the operations of thought.

10a. Child-psychology often suffers from the same mistake that is made in animal psychology: namely, that the observations aren't interpreted objectively, but are filled out with subjective reflections. Thus, the earliest ideational combinations, which are in reality purely associative, are regarded as acts of logical reflection, and the earliest mimetic expressive movements, as, for example, those of a new-born child due to taste-stimuli, are looked upon as reactions to feelings, while they are obviously at first nothing but connate reflexes which may, indeed, be accompanied by obscure concomitant feelings, but even these can not be demonstrated with certainty. The ordinary view as to the development of volition and of speech, labors under a like misconception. Generally there is a tendency to consider the child's language, because of its peculiarities, as a creation of his own. Closer observation, however, shows that it is created by those about him, though in doing this they use the sounds that the child himself produces, and conform as far as possible to big stage of consciousness. Thus it comes that some of the very detailed and praise-worthy accounts of the mental development of the child in modern literature can serve only as sources for finding objective facts. Because they stand on the basis of a reflective popular psychology, their psychological deductions require correction along the lines marked out above.